How to write a romance novel by Heidi Rice
If you've been surfing the Clever Advice for Smart Ladies section on Motilo.com recently, you might have come across Mills & Boon superstar, Heidi Rice, and her top 10 tips for writing a romance novel. Full of amazing advice for would-be authors, we had to share it with everyone on Socialise!
Contrary to popular opinion, it’s incredibly hard to write a romance novel (especially if you want to get it published). But as an author of 15 (count them) Mills & Boon novels, a Cosmo Red Hot Read and several short stories, here are my 10 top tips:
1 No sex please (without FEELINGS)
When writing bonking scenes remember they must be there for a reason. The sex can be good, bad or knee-tremblingly awesome (or behind a closed bedroom door if you’re not comfortable writing the really filthy stuff), but whatever happens (or doesn’t happen) there needs to be action of the emotional variety to go with the physical – or your sex scenes will be gratuitous or, something far worse, really, really boring.
2 Start with a bang
Not necessarily a literal bit of boning – I'm talking about as opposed to the whimper. This can be anything from a "meet-cute" – eg: a car prang in Camden between a flirtatious cupcake baker and a hunky barrister (as in my book Cupcakes & Killer Heels - SHAMELESS PLUG SO SHOOT ME); to a meet not-so-cute – eg: a female lifeguard saving a hot but rubbish surfer from drowning (Surf, Sea and a Sexy Stranger - ANOTHER ONE, WHATEVER); to an emotional turning point wrapped up in a meet-hot – eg: sleeping with the hotty next door who’s house you've just broken into. (Hot-Shot Tycoon, Indecent Proposal - CAN'T STOP SORREEEE). The key is to start on a point of action so you hook your readers into the story on page one.
3 Love reading romance (No faking it allowed)
Romance readers are smart, savvy, demanding and they know what they want — and funnily enough, they’re mostly women. If you want to know what they want so you can give it to them (LITERALLY), you must love reading romance too.
4 You’ve got to have style
Your own personal style as a writer (ie. your "voice") is the thing that makes your writing unique. Try on lots of different romances for size (see previous point). Decide what you like and don’t like about them and then create your own by writing and re-writing. I love sexy, sassy, witty books with exceptionally hot alpha heroes (RRRRRR!) and smart, savvy, "don’t-mess-with-me" heroines – guess what kind of books I write?
5 The formula is… there is no formula
A romance is a character-led story about a relationship (or several relationships) with a happy ending. But the happy ending is just the pay-off. Your story is the journey your characters took to get there, their conflict and how they overcome it. Every story is different, because your characters and their conflict is always different. So that tale about a secret formula… total myth, sorry.
6 Characters are your CRACK
So, we know your romance is all about your characters – your hero, your heroine (or your two heroes, or your two heroines or your two heroes and one heroine… whatever). Ask them questions and keep on asking them. Who are they? What do they want? Why do they want it? Get to know them inside as well as out. Because how they inter-act, how they change and grow during the course of your story is what their unique romantic journey is all about. DEEP.
7 Embrace your inner multiple personality disorder
When getting to know your characters, let them talk to you and be prepared to listen. They need to be real to you – multi-layered, three-dimensional, complex - if they are going to be real to your readers.
8 Conflict is king
The elements of your characters that are stopping them from living happily ever after are the engine of your story and its driving force. It’s the shark in the water that’s keeping your characters swimming at page-turning pace. Know what it is, and how your characters are going to confront it and overcome it, together.
9 Research is good, except when it’s a gratuitous timesuck
You want your story to be authentic and convincing, so do the research you need to do to make them so. (NB: historical romances will usually require more of this). But don’t get carried away aka checking out buff nekkid guys on Pinterest for more than an hour is hard to justify as research — unless they’re Jamie Dornan or Henry Cavill and then it's fine.
10 Avoid the clichés
Romance is a vibrant, hugely popular and constantly evolving section of the genre fiction market. And while it’s virtually impossible to find a new plot idea (secret baby, marriage-of-convenience, blind date, one night stand, etc…) when using those familiar tropes you should always be looking for a new twist to make sure your story is fresh and unique. So when writing your romance, be adventurous, be daring, be different and above all be bold. Not simple but satisfying, I guarantee it.
You can read Heidi's latest work in our fabulous anthology, Truly, Madly, Deeply